Australia says coal holdups at China ports are not a ban

Posted on Friday, February 22nd, 2019 By Nick Perry, Associated Press

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Australia's trade minister said Friday that while there might be some delays in the processing of coal shipments at Chinese ports, he has no reason to believe China is banning Australian coal.

Simon Birmingham told reporters in Adelaide that he did not see any problem in the relationship between the two countries. His comments followed a report a day earlier by the Reuters news agency, citing an unnamed port official, that the northern Chinese port of Dalian had banned imports of Australian coal.

Coal is one of Australia's largest exports. The report caused the Australian dollar to briefly tumble, coal stocks to fall, and sent officials scrambling for answers.

China's markets are vital for Australia and relations are sensitive after Australia last year blocked Chinese-owned telecommunications giant Huawei from involvement in its 5G network due to security concerns.

Birmingham said import quotas, combined with the testing of products for quality assurance, "may be slowing down the processing of coal in certain ports across China." But he said China was applying its rules equally to all countries and wasn't discriminating against Australia.

"I want to provide reassurance that we have no basis to believe that there is a ban on Australian coal exports into China or into any part of China," he said.

Australia is working to clarify China's policies and to reassure Australian coal companies, Birmingham said.

He said the relationship with China was in good shape.

"We can be confident as a country that our relationship, we believe, is strong, that our ability to work through these issues is strong, and that the economic ties we have, valued as they are by both parties, will continue to be strong into the future," he said.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who was traveling in New Zealand, told reporters that people needed to be careful about jumping to conclusions. He said local ports make their own decisions.

"This happens from time to time, and we will just work constructively with our partners in China about those issues," Morrison said.

China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Chinese customs conducts risk monitoring and analysis on the safety and quality of imported coal.

"The purpose of this is to better maintain Chinese import enterprises' legitimate rights and interests and to ensure environmental safety," Geng said.

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